Fourth of July is peak summer vacation time at Walt Disney World, which means high crowds and hot weather, plus fireworks and entertainment. This guide to July 4, 2023 covers what to expect for Independence Day Weekend at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and beyond. (Updated June 23, 2023.)
In general, the first thing to expect on July 4th is added crowds at Disney as Floridians and Southerners head down to Walt Disney World for the holiday. With Independence Day falling on a Tuesday in 2023, it’s likely a ton of people will descend upon Florida for a long weekend trip. On top of the locals, it’ll be busy with tourists.
The good news is that the holiday isn’t on a Saturday or a Sunday, which means that it’s likely crowds will be spread out over the course of more days. Tourists will head down for the weekend and many will head home before the festivities on Tuesday. Then the Floridians will show up on the day itself. The end result should be several days of elevated attendance, but no single day that’s a 10/10 crowd level. Instead, our expectation is around 7/10 to 8/10 crowds on average.
If these more manageable (by Independence Day standards) crowd levels are catching you by surprise, they’re because Walt Disney World is in the midst of a slowdown this summer. We’ve observed this in crowds ourselves, with the parks being noticeably less busy and wait times data being down relative to the same dates last year. But it’s also not simply a matter of perception or speculation on our part.
Disney CFO Christine McCarthy recently warned investors of a slowdown in demand as Walt Disney World “lapped” the 50th Anniversary. Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro reiterated this, contrasting the performance of the Florida parks with Disneyland, which reopened almost a year later. Then there are the many discounts that Walt Disney World has released for now through Christmas 2023. Suffice to say, “revenge travel” is officially over–at least at Walt Disney World!
As a result, it’s a near-certainty that July 4th won’t be as busy as last year. This is also reflected in the Disney Park Pass reservation system, which is still be used to limited attendance. The last two years, this prevented the parks from being overrun with people making last-minute trips, as reservations ran out for Magic Kingdom and EPCOT well in advance.
Above is a look at reservation availability for July 2023 as of today. As you can see, it is wide open. The story is the same for Annual Passholders, as the tiers of APs that are not blocked out have full availability. This is due to decreased demand, not more reservations being released.
More good news: Walt Disney World has officially confirmed that “Disney’s Celebrate America! A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky” will be performed on July 3-4, 2023 at Magic Kingdom, replacing Happily Ever After. Both nights will also include DJ parties throughout the park.
Walt Disney World has also confirmed that the Heartbeat of Freedom tag will occur after EPCOT Forever on July 4, 2023. This features fireworks launched from around World Showcase and barges in the lagoon for a blockbuster, earth-shaking finale offering a Salute to All World Showcase Nations, But Mostly America.
Also at EPCOT, a new limited-time patriotic ambient lighting design will appear on Spaceship Earth for the Fourth of July. This gives EPCOT’s iconic the look of an American flag, and alternates with the standard Beacons of Magic show, which continues to be performed nightly on Spaceship Earth. The Fourth of July American flag effect will be shown nightly starting over the weekend and running through July 4, 2023.
Additionally, the Voices of Liberty will sing songs from the American songbook beneath the rotunda in the American Adventure. That’s where you’ll also find Disney fur characters wearing special “Spirit of ’76” attire and meet guests throughout the day. At EPCOT and elsewhere, there will also be distinctly patriotic treats in honor of Independence Day.
As usual, Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will not do any special nighttime spectaculars for July 4, 2023.
Disney and America go together about like America and apple pie, plus great celebrations and fireworks shows, and it’s easy to see why a lot of people visit Walt Disney World for July 4th. This post will offer tips and tricks for surviving Walt Disney World around the Fourth of July, and help you make the most of the experience.
If you’re already in Walt Disney World and are looking for ways to avoid the heat, humidity, and crowds and for the best experience on and around July 4th, we’ve got you covered. If you’ve wanted to do the “Distinctly Patriotic” thing and go to Walt Disney World for the Fourth of July, but have always been afraid of the chaos and crowds, this post might just present an attack plan to convince you to go.
Since we are distinctly patriotic (or crazy…your pick!), we’ve visited Walt Disney World for the Fourth of July and weeks both before and after Independence Day itself several times. It’s hot, humid, and crowded. Not exactly ideal circumstances. However, the atmosphere and fireworks are some of the best in the United States, enough to almost make it all worthwhile.
With that said, here’s what we’ve learned about making the most of the Fourth of July at Walt Disney World!
When we were at Walt Disney World for the Fourth of July last time, I sweated through my shirt approximately 13 minutes after we got to the park each morning. Okay, maybe not that quickly, but the idea is that Walt Disney World is more or less a rain forest environment in the summer. It will be in the upper-80s with 80%+ humidity, and it will rain for at least 20 minutes. Every day. You need to pack accordingly.
This stuff isn’t unique to visiting over the Fourth of July, but it’ll help keep you sane during one of those visits. Additionally, if you want to stay cool during your July visit to Walt Disney World, consult our Tips for Beating the Summer Heat at Walt Disney World post.
As far as the major holidays go during which we’ve visited, Fourth of July isn’t quite as bad as the others. To be sure, it’s still bad, just not as insanely bad as New Year’s Eve, for example. What arguably makes it worse than other holidays is the Florida humidity and summer tour groups. Crowds, plus humidity, plus tour groups can be a recipe for disaster, and can make your group more prone to meltdowns.
We say this not to scare you, but to give you a strong dose of reality before you expect to walk into the park skipping hand-in-hand down empty sidewalks with Sam the Eagle while lighting sparklers and being handed apple pies and Cracker Jacks by smiling Cast Members.
There will be none of that. You will encounter congestion, incredibly long lines (even for restrooms), and other guests in foul moods due to the “unexpected” crowds. In fact, the parks get so busy that sometimes they are closed to new guests at various points in the day via phased closings.
No matter what tricks we have to help you avoid crowds, it is impossible to avoid them completely unless you lock yourself in your hotel room. Beyond that, no tip, regardless of how good, is as good of a tip as “visit in September or late January instead.” If avoiding crowds is your paramount concern, you should be avoiding the weeks around the holidays, not reading these tips for visiting on July 4th.
With that said, you can definitely make lemonade out of lemons, seeing and doing a lot on the Fourth of July despite the crowds. Here’s how…
1. Skip Midday – During Fourth of July week, the Magic Kingdom has longer operating hours. Most guests will either start the day late and stay until close, or start the day early and fizzle out by late afternoon.
The time when these groups “overlap” is the middle of the day. Crowds are always lightest in the morning, getting progressively worse until about 1 pm, then tapering down the rest of the day, with crowds again being light the last couple of hours each park is open. The middle of the day is the hottest, busiest, and just generally the most miserable time to be in the parks.
So skip it. Start out your day right when the park opens, get a ton done before it gets crowded, go back to your hotel to take a nap or enjoy the pool during the busiest and hottest hours of the day, then return to the parks–refreshed and recharged–for the nighttime hours.
2. Do Indoor, Less Popular Attractions – Going to Walt Disney World during busy seasons doesn’t bother us because many of our favorite attractions aren’t all that popular, are located in air-conditioning. If you have awesome taste, you might find doing the following attractions is a great strategy for you. Asterisked attractions score extra points for being “distinctly patriotic” experiences that are Independence Day Must-Dos!
*Carousel of Progress — Rotating theater showcasing the progress of the American family, including a Fourth of July scene and a generally patriotic tone; rarely has a line meaning you can ride repeatedly if you’d like.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover — Leisurely ride through Tomorrowland on elevated track; especially great for a relaxing nighttime ride.
Country Bear Jamboree – Almost makes the patriotic list (what’s more patriotic than musically-inclined bears?!); a fun, humorous show.
*Hall of Presidents – Stage show featuring every US President; aside from their mere presence, this show is not political–it’s historical, educational, and moving.
Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room – Quick, indoor show with singing tiki birds makes for a quick rest stop.
*American Adventure — World Showcase pavilion with performers followed by Audio-Animatronics stage show about America. Must do on the Fourth of July!
Turtle Talk with Crush – A cute show with Crush from Finding Nemo. Add the aquatic exhibits and this pavilion is a nice respite from the heat.
Impressions de France (Evening Only) — Distinctly unpatriotic, but this film about France is a good option for escaping the heat. This travelogue is a good option for a break while Drinking Around the World at Epcot! (Actually, Drinking Around the World is a pretty good Fourth of July activity, too…)
*MuppetVision 3D — Muppet 3D film with Sam the Eagle, and a glorious Salute to All Nations, But Mostly America!
*Walt Disney Presents — A walk-through exhibit tribute to Walt Disney, one of the most patriotic men to ever live. For Summer 2023, there’s also a new Ariel meet & greet towards the end, which has ridiculously long lines–we recommend doing this in mid-morning when crowds are bad everywhere else, but haven’t quite materialized here.
Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond — This lengthy musical was recently reimagined and is well worth seeing. Lots of seating for this indoor stage show.
Festival of the Lion King — Another indoor stage show with a descriptive name.
In general, Animal Kingdom is not a great option for avoiding crowds and heat during a summer visit. That is, unless you want to spend ~3 hours in the air-conditioned queue for Avatar Flight of Passage. We don’t think that’s exactly the best way to spend your day, but it’s certainly one way to avoid the heat!
3. Don’t Eat at Lunchtime – People like to eat lunch at lunchtime. That’s a pretty obvious thing to say, right? Well, because of that, and due to limited restaurant capacity, the waits to order food are longest at noon. Eat when restaurants first open or later in the afternoon. The best time of day is going to be before 11 am, or around 3 or 4 p.m.
A corollary to this is dining at smaller or out of the way locations. Cosmic Ray’s, Pecos Bill, Casey’s Corner, and Pinocchio’s Village Haus will be absolutely slammed in Magic Kingdom. Instead of those spots, go to a more out of the way location, walk-up windows, or kiosks. This is even easier at EPCOT, where the more “exotic” restaurants tend to be far less busier than the core food courts like Connections Cafe & Eatery. For those doing a midday break, consider eating at a hotel food court–those will be far less busy. If you do want or need to dine at the big crowd-pleasers, do it early.
4. Use Lightning Lanes During Prime Hours – Visiting Walt Disney World during the Fourth of July summer season requires an advanced degree in theme park touring, so if you’re asking, “what are Lightning Lanes” you may need to start by reading our Guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lane FAQfor all of the foundational need-to-know info about this replacement for free FastPass+.
Since lines are longest midday, it follows that you’ll get the most utility out of those Lightning Lane ride reservations when the parks are busiest, which is closest to the middle of the day.
July 4th Fireworks
Of the four Walt Disney World theme parks, only Magic Kingdom and Epcot have special fireworks shows for the Fourth of July. Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios run their normal nighttime spectaculars. The Magic Kingdom shows “Disney’s Celebrate America,” its Independence Day fireworks on both July 3 and July 4, 2023.
Epcot only does its Independence Day fireworks on July 4. Because of this, we highly recommend seeing Celebrate America on July 3. There is some “other” Fourth of July entertainment at the parks (we’ll discuss that below), but you should really make your plans around the fireworks, with the other stuff being a tiebreaker, of sorts.
We have seen all of the Fourth of July fireworks shows, and they are all awesome. Each uses enough pyro to declare war on a small nation (assuming you could somehow use pyro to declare war…never mind that), and each show is so intense that some guests might consider wearing sunglasses and earplugs while watching.
Here’s a rundown of each fireworks show on July 4th at Walt Disney World:
Celebrate America (Magic Kingdom) – The best of all three shows. It has the soundtrack that is both patriotic and quintessentially Disney, along with special fireworks bursts accompanying the soundtrack. These fireworks have an awesome 360-degree effect. On the downside, it draws the largest crowds.
Heartbeat of Freedom Tag (Epcot) – The most intense 5 minutes or so of fireworks you might ever see at Walt Disney World, and at the park with the most patriotic festivities.
Fantasmic (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) – Fantasmic will be shown on July 4, 2023…just as it is every night now. The reimagined Fantasmic is awesome, but you can see it July 1-2 and 5-31. Do that instead of viewing it July 3-4, 2023.
Nothing (Disney’s Animal Kingdom) – Animal Kingdom permanently retired Rivers of Light, which was its nighttime spectacular. It has been replaced by nothing.
We’re already assuming you’re going to see Celebrate America on July 3 (if not, definitely see that show on the Fourth of July), so that means it comes down to Epcot or Magic Kingdom a second time for the Fourth. My take is that Epcot has a better patriotic atmosphere during the day, and the fireworks are much more intense and spectacular.
Epcot’s World Showcase can hold a lot of people, but it still manages to fill up, and becomes difficult to navigate. It’s still a great experience, and well worth braving the crowds to see. Don’t just show up for the fireworks–Epcot has a whole day of patriotic entertainment options.
Arrive wherever you’re going to watch these fireworks shows at least two hours in advance. Possibly more. People start saving fireworks spots in late afternoon, several hours before the shows. This is especially true in the Magic Kingdom, which is more crowded than Epcot, which is more crowded than Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. We have a blog post detailing our favorite viewing spots for Magic Kingdom fireworks, and this holds true for the Celebrate America fireworks.
One thing worth noting in that list of viewing locations is the spots outside the park. These are busier than normal, but they’re still great alternatives. Again, Bay Lake Tower warrants mentioning here, as the Top of the World Lounge is a fantastic, relatively uncrowded spot for fireworks (if you are a Disney Vacation Club member who can access it). The Ticket & Transportation Center is also a great spot.
Developing a plan for the fireworks before the Fourth of July is a good idea, as you cannot stroll up at the last minute and grab a spot. Everything from transportation to navigating the parks is more difficult during the busy summer season. Having things to do while you wait will make the experience much more bearable!
In terms of the “other stuff,” Magic Kingdom has special PhotoPass options on July 3 & 4, including a fun-looking light painting effect at night. Otherwise, Epcot is where the Fourth of July stuff happens, where there are extra performances of the American Adventure entertainment, plus Disney characters meeting in special patriotic attire.
Around the hotels, nothing of significance is officially scheduled. Magic Kingdom area resorts do not have any official events, but you can expect big crowds and informal ‘parties’ as these resorts crowd with hotel guests and locals eager to view the fireworks.
All in all, Walt Disney World is a great, patriotic place to spend the Fourth of July. Not everything will go according to plan, and it can be a frustrating experience if you let the crowds and heat get to you. Instead, go in with the right attitude and plan on doing things that are in the AC, and don’t have long lines. The fireworks and the other supplementary entertainment make a Fourth of July visit to Walt Disney World a lot of fun, no matter what!
Have you ever visited Walt Disney World for the Fourth of July? Would you ever do it? Have any additional tips for making the most out of the experience, or regarding which fireworks shows to see? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!